Play me a song, and I’ll sing it back for you. I remember songs, lyrics, tunes… they haunt me, chase me, comfort and exalt me, they define me. As a little girl, I would sing the songs I heard on the radio, after hearing them 2-3 times, or long before I really knew what most of those lyrics meant. When I look back on my life, there is music in every scene. There are songs that shimmer and shine throughout my life. There are so many things that I could give up, but don’t take my music.
I remember holding my pink parasol at the Japanese gardens in San Francisco, when I was four or five years old. I went with my father and paternal grandparents. Somewhere, there is a photo of me in a yellow dress with the pink umbrella, standing near a lilly pond, “posing” as young girls do, believing they are princesses. I sang “Hey there Georgie Girl” and Petula Clark’s “Downtown“… I too was fancy free and oh so cool, downtown. When I was young and missing my father, after my parents separated, Peter, Paul and Mary soothed me and sent me to sleep believing that all would be well and our family would be whole again. To the sounds of “500 Miles and Leaving on a Jet Plane” I would drift off, hoping to see it all turn around. When that didn’t happen, PP&M kept me company any way; I knew I was safe with them.
How did Jim Croce know that all I wanted was “Time in a Bottle,” when I was ten and grieving the loss of my father, who was killed in an accident. To Jim’s mournful voice, I realized that my family would never be whole again. I sang it over and over, hoping to make the words true. The video to the song, made long before special effects and slick technology, is poetry. It’s also ironic, given that Jim Croce died not long after recording that song, a young man with a family, like my father. I imagine his child watches that video too and feels the poignancy I feel when I first saw it. There is no doubt that there have been heart breaking songs throughout time, which speak to the musician’s thoughts, pain or joy… but some times, those songs seem like they were written just for me, when I needed them most.
Then there are all of the happy, dance ’til my feet hurt and sweat makes my hair slick songs. There are the “remember when we…” songs: Michael Jackson singing Rock With You every time I walked in to Ronnie Shones’ General Store in my home town of Scituate, MA, as a Jr. in High School. When I fell in love for the first time, with the boy who worked there (or, I finally noticed that he liked me!), that had to be “our song.” The Doors pounding Break on Through, as we partied at J’s house, when her mom was away. Could Jim Morrison have been more sexy? Did I know what sexy really was then? The way he gyrated and growled sure looked like it to my 17 year old brain. Driving in a red convertible to Lake Tahoe, just after graduation from high school, with my good friend Kelly, as Cindy Lauper sang Girls Just Wanna Have Fun; that’s all we wanted to do! In that car, in those bikinis, with that song blaring out: weha had the world by the balls! Two years later, a sophomore in college, I heard Midnight Oil sing US Forces, the first time I left home for real and traveled to Australia for three months. I had no idea that not everyone loved Americans, but Midnight Oil told me why in that song. They came back a few years later when I was on fire over indigenous peoples and made us all wonder how we could “dance when our earth is turning and Beds Are Burning.” I came home with The Cure, Midnight Oil and Tears for Fears, groups that had not broken out in the US yet and I’ve held on to them, as they never fail to nail the songs that still make me sing out loud and dance around my kitchen.
When I got married, we may have played My Sunny Valentine at our wedding, but my husband and I knew that U2’s With or Without You was and always would be “our song.” Not the song most love struck people would choose, but it’s lyrics still apply and we always stop to dance to it. Principessa would stop whatever she was doing, each time R.E.M sang Losing My Religion, to move her sweet two year body in her unique style. It was my favorite song at the time, and she is still (more) her mama’s girl when it comes to music! Just yesterday, I heard Enya’s Caribbean Blue and tears sprang to my eyes remembering holding Middle Man as a baby and dancing around our tiny Chicago apartment. He would giggle and coo and nestle his baby face into my neck, his breath still rich with the smell of breast milk and that indescribable goodness that only babies have. My beautiful baby boy is now a nearly grown, beautiful man, but oh to have one more of those dances with him. I refused to enter the hospital, as Little Man, ten days late, pounded my stomach and I doubled over with contractions. I wanted to hear Ripple one more time, to stay calm and centered for his arrival. I sang it through gritted teeth and then then waddled in. Once he was here, Little Man was a Talking Heads boy and he would bounce and rock to pretty much any song they sang. Today, he still loves This Must Be The Place, and while David Byrnes is just plain electric to watch, I will never tire of listening to that song. It’s meaning has changed as I have. While I first heard Cat’s in the Cradle in high school, I didn’t really understand it until I became a parent. Now, there are days when it brings me back to what really matters.
Four years ago, when my 49 yr old aunt Pam– who was like my big sister growing up, only five years older than me– died “suddenly” of the Huntington’s Disease that chases my family, after only eight months from diagnosis to death, and then two weeks later, my 43 year old cousin John– who I was mad about for most of my youth– was killed in a plane crash and then a colleague and wonderful doctor we knew died in an accident only two months after the other two deaths… only Peter Gabriel’s I Grieve spoke clearly to me. I was shaken to the core and I played that song over and over and over again, until the hardest part passed. I still come back to it when I need to, but it isn’t as raw and powerful as it was in those first days and weeks. Watching this video now, on the eve of 9/11, is potent. I didn’t know that Peter Gabriel wrote this in response to 9/11 and performed it on the one year anniversary, until I found the video tonight. This man sings what the entire nation felt.
“Precious and fragile things, need special handling.” This has and always will be true, but now I really get it. I play it to remind me of that fact and I sing it differently, than I did when it just seemed like a good dance song. Lately, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs sums up so many things I feel at this stage in life, and the entire “album” moves me deeply. I started singing my songs when they were on 45’s and albums, then CDs, and now I can simply download them. But singing the songs is still what I do most when I am driving my car, in the shower, walking by the lake or in the woods, cooking dinner… every day. Music is always with me. I listen to the lyrics and melodies, the grinds and the lullabies and I am still moved. I am still grounded. I still seek the songs that speak to me and about me, or that touch me for some inexplicable reason. And I play them, over and over.
What are the songs that move you, good or bad? Or is music just back ground for you? Tell me what you think. If you enjoyed this article, please hit Like and/or use the Share button to pass it along. If you want to get the latest posts, Subscribe and you will get an email each time I post a new entry. You wont get any other mail. And if you’re new to this site, check out some of the older posts, by hitting the Archive button.
Note: I’ve found myself Googling songs a lot recently, to see the videos. Without thinking much about it, this post began to write itself… not the post I’d been planning, but it pushed it’s way to the front of the line. Have some fun here and click on the links (colored words for you non-techies) and you can watch these videos too, or in some cases just enjoy some neat stuff. The Jim Croce and Cat Stevens videos are bound to make some of you misty, bringing forth those sweet baby thoughts. The Peter Gabriel video stunned me when I came across it tonight, on the eve of 9/11. It is moving beyond words.
Check out some more of my favorites (I plan to keep adding to this list):
Arcade Fire: Wake Up (this entire album speaks to childhood, memories of youth)
Arcade Fire: Ready to Start
Arcade Fire: Sprawl II
Deathcab for Cutie: Soul Meets Body (I love EVERYthing about this song; but I particularly relate to the Greyhound Station in my mind line… I take that bus often.)
Kansas: Dust in the Wind (this song will always move me deeply)
Howie Day: Collide (love, love, love. So often true.)
Counting Crows: Mr Jones (Drive, drive, drive, windows down and singing. Or dancing in my kitchen)
Metric: Gimme Sympathy (Sing it, sing it, sing it again!)
Counting Crows: Perfect Blue Buildings (Hell, all of this album!)
Deathcab for Cutie: Soul Meets Body (ANYtime, anywhere!)
Crowded House: Distant Sun (yep, pretty sure they wrote this for me! And one of my favorite groups of all time.)
Crowded House/Neil Finn: Fall at Your Feet (beautiful to distraction)
Crowded House (live): Fall at Your Feet (worth repeating)
Howie Day: Brace Yourself
Radiohead: Reckoner (simply exquisite)
Deathcab for Cutie: I Will Follow You Into the Dark (oh, how beautiful…still remember first hearing it)
Plain White Ts: Hey There Delilah (Principessa… “and I’d walk to you if I had no other way”… always for you)
Crowded House: Four Seasons in One Day
New Order: Blue Monday (oh baby, we have such strange songs…)
Hoobastank: The Reason (Middle Man is my reason)
Jason Mraz: I’m Yours (Oh Little Man, dancing to your Bar Mitzvah. I will always think of YOU when this plays)
Sting: Ghost Story (I must have loved you…)
Fleetwood Mac: Landslide (High School graduation song, gets more with passage of time.)
Fleetwood Mac: The Chain (live- this album was the first I ever owned, and still rules!)
Playing for Change: Stand By Me (our family will always love this song, but this version rocks!)
Ben E. King: Stand By Me (but this will always bring me back to watching the movie Stand By Me with our kids, over and over!)
Playing for Change: War/No More Trouble (spectacular! mixed with Bob Marley, just beautiful!)
The Go Go’s: Our Lips Are Sealed (Freshman yr college. This and Billy Idol; I threw away my dean sweaters and shaved my head to a punk cut… grew a “tail” and never looked back.)
Crystal Castles (with Robert Smith!): I’m Not in Love
The Cure: Just Like Heaven (live)
Mode: Personal Jesus
Johnny Cash: Personal Jesus (amazing how the artist can change a song entirely!)
Depeche Mode: Precious (still listen to this all the time)
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Snow (hey oh)
” ” Chili Peppers: Otherside
Chris Isaak: Wicked Game (this man can sing anything and rock me) Peter, Paul and Mary: The Kid (this song, more than many, speaks to ME. This is not he version I listen to, but there is no video by PP&M)
Israel Kamakawiwo ‘Ole/Iz: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (dancing around our orchard, after a hard rain, with a rainbow, with my 3 small children… the song blasting from my “boom box”)
Michelle Shocked: The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore
Michelle Shocked: Anchorage
Bon Jovi: Living on a Prayer (who doesn’t sing this out loud? And oh, the hair takes you back!)
Metric: Sick Muse
Bon Jovi: You Want to Make a Memory (just beautiful)
The Mamas and Papas: California Dreamin’ (will ALWAYS take me back)
Railroad Earth: Mighty River (Little Man’s fishing song, I adopted it too)
Billy Idol: Rebel Yell (I hear the first few chords, turn the volume up and growl my way thru’, cheesy version)
Billy Idol: Rebel Yell (Just to show that this dude still looks amazing… 2009!)
Eddie Vedder: No Ceiling and Society (Thank you Eddie: for two weeks in Yellowstone this summer, he brought me great joy, while I looked for myself. Love this album: Into The Wild; the music moves me deeply)
The Fray: How to Save a Life (says too much, love this)
Ozone: Numa Numa (one magic night, driving through puddles with Principessa and Middle Man, and blaring this song. It was one of the best nights ever! It’s worth including just for this cheesy Russian video)
Pink: Who Knew (Vegas! Let me say for the record: I can belt out this baby! As a select few know)
Joan Baez: Stones in the Road (beautiful song, that covers the time when I was growing up)
Joan Baez: Diamonds and Dust (First love, sad end… beautiful song, that I sing well and often)